Our Armchair Quarterbacks

“Everyone has very strong opinions.  Education is one of those topics that runs very deep with people…”  -Sir Ken Robinson

I believe that one of the great joys we derive from watching professional sports is not only in the competition and stories that evolve during the games…it is the opportunity to serve as the “armchair quarterback”.  From the joy of celebrating a hard fought victory, to venting our frustration from the choice of calls coming from the sidelines, as well as the plays made on the field.  We love to wave our arms wildly in the air, ranting and raving about what is going on with “my” team.  “Who made that call?”  “What were they thinking?”  “Even I could have made that play.”  And on and on…  Very often being a spectator is not really the case, at all.

Nor do the referees escape the wrath of our sport “expertise”…

And the more knowledge and time spent involved with or playing the sport…the better equipped we “know” we are to dole out our “armchair quarterback” advice.  We’ve been there and we know.

Why can’t the players and coach see what we see, often becomes our game time rallying cry…

Which may be the very reason we have game time commentators.  With their replays, X’s and O’s, and magic on screen markers, they take us through the positives and negatives of those important plays.  They give us more clarity into the game…why or why not a choice was made?  Why or why not it was a good choice?  Why that play was chosen in that situation?  It is their job to provide us that increased clarity, into the game, a play, as well as the choices made or not made.

And very often, much of their commentary provides in-depth information into decisions and plays that were made from a knowledge well that we were not able to draw from…about the team, the players, and coach we may not have been privy, too.  But it is that very information that provides us clarity into decisions made, and why.

Plays, decisions and calls become clearer when we gain access to more information, more learning…

Which is an incredibly important lesson for us as educational leaders to internalize and understand…transparency isn’t just about being open, it is about being clear.

Most of our stakeholders are like that “armchair quarterback”…and they have been well-equipped with thirteen years of experience and training to fall back on when questioning a “call” or a “decision” made.  And while everyone’s experience may be similar, they are also quite different and unique.  So they bring their own perspective and vision of how school should look…from the classroom, to the lunchroom, playground, and office.  From discipline to awards…all stakeholders have their own idea of what “play” should be made, and why.

And as educational leaders, when we make decisions without being “open”, without being “clear”, without laying the necessary groundwork for clarity…when we fail to provide necessary and needed information and learning around “the why” of a decision…then we have to expect for the “armchair quarterback” come out in our stakeholders.  It is only natural.

Lack of understanding and clarity fails to create commitment.  And in most cases, it tends to create frustration, confusion and chaos.

Especially, when any of those changes go against the prevailing idea of how school should be, look, and do.  As leaders, when we are not willing to understand and acknowledge the perceptions of others…it is very difficult to lead any type of change process or movement.

The more information we provide, the more insight into the decisions that were made and why, the more clarity and understanding we create for our stakeholders.  While it may not gain you all the support you are looking and searching for…it will give stakeholders clarity and understanding into why a decision may be needed and necessary.  Even if the stakeholders don’t necessarily agree with that decision or change.

Why is this so important?

In education, much like sports, we have a wide range of stakeholders.  Stakeholders who are very familiar with school and have their own idea of how a school should look and run.  As leaders, we have to be able to persuade people towards necessary and needed change.  The more ingrained their mindset is about certain things…the harder it is to create that change without pushback.

As a leader, you have to decide if you are going to lay the groundwork to create commitment around change…or if you are going to plow and force your way through and be willing to face the inevitable pushback that will occur.

As educational leaders, we have to serve in the same capacity as those sports commentators.  We acknowledge that we will face “armchair quarterbacks” and those who question “decisions” and “calls” that are made.  And that is not a problem, it is natural.  We want people involved in the process…but, we also want them to be equipped with understanding and clarity around those very same “calls” and “decisions”.

Which is why it’s so important for leaders to be very intentional in laying the ground work of clarity and understanding for changes being made and why those changes are necessary and needed and for the overall benefit of the students and their learning.  When that is done, change will roll a little smoother…

But when the groundwork isn’t laid, when clarity and understanding are not created…then don’t be surprised when the “armchair quarterbacks” show up in droves for the game.

In one way or another, we are all “armchair quarterbacks“…whether it is sports, education, politics, or a variety of other interests where we find ourselves deeply engaged and invested.

In the end, whether people agree with a decision or not, you want them to understand the decision or change, and the reasons behind it.  Which is what transparency really is…clarity.  And you want them to be able to remain fans.  Just like sports fans…we don’t always agree with a call, with a play, with a decision or a coaching move…but, we still find ways at the end of the day to support our team.  Leaders should create those same conditions.

You want people to say…”I saw that coming, great play” more than “Why did they do that?” or “Why on earth would they make that change?”  And to get that first response, takes diligent time and effort.


3 thoughts on “Our Armchair Quarterbacks

  1. David, I particularly enjoyed your football analogy as I played the game competitively for nearly 20 years as a quarterback and a punter (finished off my career playing 5 seasons in university in Canada). Throughout my university playing career, I was on the receiving end of the armchair quarterback comments numerous times from fans, from fellow players, coaches, and from the media. What it taught me is that everyone does indeed have an opinion, from their own perspectives, on what they see and observe as they watch the game. However, what they saw was vastly different from what I was experiencing as a quarterback in action on the field.

    There were numerous factors that they couldn’t possibly understand from my perspective from the speed of the rush and picking up inside and outside blitzes to reading the coverage and trying to choose the best receiver to throw to. They couldn’t feel the pain I was feeling after being wiped out by a brutal hit from a defensive lineman or linebacker. However, at times, some of these armchair quarterbacks were right. Maybe I did release the ball too soon, or failed to look backside and missed a wide open receiver. Perhaps, the play I audibled to was a completely wrong choice.

    There is an important point I am making as I compare what I experienced playing quarterback to the way we lead in education. We must always listen with an open-mind and with clear eyes. Leaders are not always going to make the right decisions, especially if these decisions are hastily decided upon without taking into consideration the opinions, viewpoints, and perspectives of those who are on our teams, fighting the battle with us, by our side, through failure and through success. The bonds created by sharing ownership for success will strengthen and solidify when we go through the journey together working, clawing, and grasping for a shared common goal which always comes down to ‘excellence’.

    Just as a quarterback must listen to the ideas, thoughts, suggestions and feedback from their offensive line, receivers, and backs, so to must a leader listen to the team assembled around them. Each stakeholder has their own unique point or view based on their personal day-to-day experiences. If these points of view are not considered at all there is not doubt that the bonds that bind will disintegrate over time.

    It is absolutely critical to be as clear as possible when making decisions, but never shut out those armchair quarterbacks because they always have something to teach us if we remain open to what they have to say. Maybe they are coming from a point of view that we never considered. Maybe we can learning something that will make us better.

    Happy holidays David.

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